JERUSALEM, Israel – The latest conflict in the Middle East involves two U.S. allies pitted against each other. Iraqi forces working with Iranian-backed Shiite militias drove the Kurds out of the oil-rich town of Kirkuk. The move represents a major blow to the Kurdish regional government, a setback for U.S. interests in the region and a boost for Iran's goal to dominate the Middle East.
After the fall of Kirkuk, thousands of Kurds demonstrated outside the U.S. Consulate in Erbil. They protested the lack of U.S. response to the Iraqi army and Shiite militias' military campaign against the Kurdish government.
Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer explained that Iran is the power behind the military campaign of the past several days.
"It's an astonishing coup in a certain sense by the Iraqi government, supported by the Iranians – a very major blow to the Kurds," Spyer told CBN News. "We're not sure where this will end. Right now the Kurds are in retreat."
Spyer said an Iranian general orchestrated the operation.
"The Iranian role was very prominent and openly declared – that is to say – the leader of the Quds force of the Revolutionary Corps force General Qasem Soleimani was in Kirkuk in the days preceding the military Iraqi and Iranian military move and it's clear in retrospect now that he was coordinating events," Spyer explained.
Before the offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBN News Iran's goal is to build a Shiite Muslim arc of power in the Middle East.
"What they want from Tehran to Tartus, from Iran to the Mediterranean, they want this Shiite arc, to colonize it and control it, and everyone is concerned," she said. "They're trying to import Shiite militias that are now trying to choke the Kurds in Kirkuk."
Because of the close partnership with Iraqi forces and Shiite militias, those militias used U.S. weapons for the offensive against Kirkuk.
"We saw a situation in which the Shia militias were operating the state-of-the-art Abrams tank, the best U.S.-made tanks in the world against Kurdish forces who had nothing like the same kind of anti-tank capacity," Spyer continued. "I think from the point of view of the U.S. taxpayer, I wonder how the U.S. taxpayer would feel if his or her hard-earned dollars are basically going toward equipping a fervently anti-Western Shia Islamist militia force."
Congress may weigh in if U.S. weapons are being used against an ally advancing Iranian strategic goals in the Middle East. The Kurds proved themselves the best ally in the war against ISIS.
During the referendum for Kurdish independence, retired U.S. General Jay Garner told CBN News how the Kurds can be a vital ally against Iranian expansion.
"Strategically this is one of the best locations in this part of the Middle East for us to have an ally," Garner explained. "And we could have a strong U.S. ally. That's why the Iranians are against us. They don't want a strong U.S. ally on their border, which is what the Kurds are. It would be like a carrier, a carrier stationed in this part of the Middle East, a U.S. carrier."
Israel has been one of the few countries to stand with the Kurds. CBN News learned that Netanyahu is calling world leaders to support the Kurds. Israel's intelligence minister said the Kurds must be protected from extermination.
Some experts say how the U.S. – the world's superpower – responds in the next few days and weeks may well determine the future of the Kurdish people.